“Whatchu gonna do when you get out of jail?”
That’s the light intro to “Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club. It’s the perfect song to groove to on Tuesday when the doldrums of the week are already in full effect. Dancing, especially in solitude, reminds me that surely I was made for more than grant reports and keeping our school in compliance. When your professional life becomes a series of hoops to jump through, you start looking around for the prizes. Don’t show ponies receive ribbons for winning? Where are my ribbons?!
My first ribbon arrived on a morning in May 2020. I woke up to find $14,000 wired directly into my bank account. It was that period of time when the state of shock of the global pandemic was still present and in that momentary bubble, the wealthy and their gatekeepers felt enough dissonance to crack open their giving paradigms and the structures that prevent more of it. I’ve raised over $6 million in the last four years to launch our school but I’d never received philanthropic funds in my personal bank account. This moment forever changed my relationship to money and wealth. Fourteen-thousand dollars is the amount that can be donated to an individual without any tax considerations. This came from the foundation of a member of the wealthiest family in America. It was a pilot program for a radical model of funding called flow funding. In this model, “donors become Flow Fund Initiators and entrust their money to social visionaries called Flow Funders. No one can apply to be a Flow Funder, rather they are chosen because of their visionary and healing gifts, their professional and life experiences, and their generosity of spirit.”
What felt the most healing and empowering about flow funding was the radical trust. It was the first time I could concretely see alignment between a foundation’s values and its practices. The task was simple: Find connected community leaders. Bypass applications, organizations, hoops and send them $14,000 directly with the freedom to do with it as they wish in efforts to help those around them in need. I was excited. Thrilled doesn’t even capture it. I did several victory dances around my yard and then neighborhood. This was the closest to Robin Hood I could get. Steal … well, not quite … receive a gift from the rich to help the poor. Much less daring but still interesting enough.
First, I asked myself if I could use this money to make a real dent in transforming the environment which creates the inequities I’m surrounded by in the first place. Reality was sobering. I’m surrounded by $14 billion problems. Billions not thousands. I was able to help a former student launching a writing coaching business, a family in need of groceries, my own family members out of work, the homeless guy on my corner etc. … It was real love in action. The funds barely lasted a few months, stretched only due to my selfish desire to feel the power to help a bit longer. I felt hope and it was just fun. This was a minuscule taste of the kind of redistribution of wealth activists have long called for. Maybe as new waves of wealthy families inherit the coffers of wealth, more innovative approaches to funding could be possible!
Tension followed hope. It hit me just how rare the feeling of abundance is and actually being able to help those catching hell. If that’s what I could do with $14,000, what could I do with $140,000? Better yet, what could my people do with $140 billion? Yes, billion. I don’t want the .00000001% of your endowment for a pilot. I want the whole damn pie. Look at me running along the hedonic treadmill. One taste and I want more, more, more! There was something about being in a very, very, very distant connection to someone who was born with billions to their name that broke my view of the game. Money is constantly flowing and it is unbelievably abundant … when it is not being hoarded. Touching that abundance momentarily helped me practice imaginative excellence. It’s easy to cry foul but it’s a different beast altogether to dream of freedom and begin to mobilize the resources to manifest that freedom. In a capitalist society where folks are “perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” love looks like access to abundant capital. With $140 billion, I’d build Wakanda, a space free of colonial violence where black bodies/minds/spirits are free to unleash their genius.
This vision helped me begin to depart from my reality and set a new course for my life. It also offered a sense of realism at what it would take. After the feelings of temporary guilt faded, it became fun. It was only $14,000, yet I felt such a rush of power. I felt zero moral incentive to gift the $14,000 to another individual and take myself out of the equation. In fact, it was extremely easy to reason and justify why I was the best positioned for this. It was at that moment I understood I had no hope counting on the wealthy to ever fix the tax code and loopholes which ensure their foundations and/or the methods for gaining such exorbitant wealth exist in perpetuity. It’s just not human nature. I have never known humans to act out of their self-interests without spilled blood, cold hard cash, or divine inspiration.
I ain’t got the heart to spill blood.
I ain’t got the cash … yet.
For now, I’ll keep trying to channel the divine and see what comes of it.
“Whatchu gonna do when you get out of jail?
I’m going to have some fun!”
Join Camelback Ventures in building a more equitable philanthropic ecosystem. Camelback Ventures’ Capital Collaborative works with white funders and social impact investors who want to deepen their individual and organizational commitment to racial and gender equity — but may not know how. You can learn more by submitting an interest form for the Capital Collaborative’s 2022 cohort starting this fall or signing up for the newsletter.